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Solace blog

1st October 2019

Lessons on Leadership: Shadowing Zina Etheridge

As a business partner of Solace, Grant Thornton UK LLP can nominate someone to shadow a local authority Chief Executive for a day.

I was lucky enough to spend a day shadowing Zina Etheridge, CEO of my local council – the London Borough of Haringey. One of the first questions Zina asked me was ‘why did you move to Haringey?’ and I felt that the view from the council building encapsulated my answer. Haringey is a vibrant borough, straddling the urban and suburban. From one window of the council building, you can see Alexandra Palace, surrounded by greenery, and on the opposite side, you can see busy Wood Green, with cranes and towering buildings on the horizon. Zina told me that this is also what attracted her to the borough – the rich variety that it has to offer.

Zina had matched her day’s schedule to my learning objectives so I was able to sit in on a number of fascinating meetings on a wide range of topics – including partnerships, community wealth building, housing, and communications – with a variety of internal and external stakeholders. The theme that ran through the day for me was leadership. Having reflected on the day, these are my lessons on leadership:

  1. Believe in what you do

One of the reasons I was so interested to meet Zina was because of her career history (she’s moved between the civil service and local government) and I was keen to know why she had made the move to council leadership seven years ago. Zina said it was ultimately down to reducing the distance between the decisions you make and the people you affect, and seeing how you can improve the lives of local residents. To keep this distance as short as possible, Zina regularly goes on ‘Ward Walks’ with councillors to truly understand the borough and the needs of its residents.

  1. Bring your whole self to work

In the past, and still in some organisations today, workplace culture has led many of us to ‘leave our home life at the door’. However, Zina described how she encourages council employees to bring their whole self to work and she does this herself – ‘My work-life permeates my home life so sometimes my home life has to impact my work life too’. By doing this she believes that we can have truly diverse and inclusive workforces that will bring new and currently untapped talent to the fore.

  1. Listen first, speak second

Throughout the day, in all the meetings with Zina, I didn’t hear her speak a huge amount or see her dominate a meeting unnecessarily. This is not to say that she had little to contribute or say, in fact, all of Zina’s contributions were measured, but she always gave other members of the group the opportunity to provide insight or opinion. Later, we reflected on the importance of listening and knowing when it is appropriate to contribute and when to take a step back. There is a great art to a ‘less is more’ approach and this was a very important lesson for me.

  1. You can’t have all the answers

The world of local government is becoming increasingly complex. The potential solutions have become multi-faceted, and the range of services delivered by councils has become increasingly wide-ranging. So can we now really expect council leaders to hold all the answers, and should they behave as if they do? Zina does not believe that she has all the answers but effectively empowers her organisation to generate innovative ideas to address the challenges facing the council now and into the future. This, Zina describes, is distributive leadership – focusing on collaboration and sharing of knowledge from everyone in the organisation, irrespective of position.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Haringey and was inspired by Zina’s approach to leadership. I would wholeheartedly encourage others to take up this fantastic opportunity facilitated by Solace. The experience has reinforced my fascination with local government and the inspirational leaders of these dynamic and vibrant organisations.


Claire Hampson, Assistant Manager, Public Services, Grant Thornton UK LLP